Monday, September 20, 2010

Community & Southern Bank Acquires the Assets and Deposits of Three Georgia Banks from the FDIC

/PRNewswire/ -- Community & Southern Bank has acquired certain assets and deposit accounts and other liabilities of Bank of Ellijay, Ellijay, Georgia, First Commerce Community Bank, Douglasville, Georgia and The Peoples Bank, Winder, Georgia, from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC"), as receiver for Bank of Ellijay, First Commerce Community Bank, and The Peoples Bank. Bank of Ellijay, First Commerce Community Bank, and The Peoples Bank were closed by the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance at the close of business on Friday, September 17, 2010, and the FDIC was appointed receiver. Community &Southern Bank will begin operating Bank of Ellijay, First Commerce Community Bank, and The Peoples Bank branch offices as Community & Southern Bank offices immediately.

These are the third, fourth, and fifth acquisitions that Community &Southern has completed. On January 29, 2010, Community & Southern acquired certain assets and deposits of First National Bank of Georgia, Carrollton, Georgia. That acquisition established Community & Southern Bank as one of the market leaders in West Georgia. On March 19, 2010, Community & Southern completed its acquisition of Appalachian Community Bank, Ellijay, Georgia, making Community & Southern the 6th largest Georgia-based bank.

"We're very pleased to announce the acquisition of Bank of Ellijay, First Commerce Community Bank, and The Peoples Bank from the FDIC. The addition of these banks will allow us to serve a wider community throughout Georgia. As we stated previously, our goal is to build a new banking franchise for Georgia, with the strong traditions of service excellence and community support," said Community &Southern Bank's President and Chief Executive Officer, Patrick M. Frawley. "As we integrate these acquisitions, we will first and foremost focus on our customers, our employees, and the communities we serve."

John Spiegel, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Community & Southern Bank and former Chief Financial Officer of SunTrust Bank, added, "The customers of Bank of Ellijay, First Commerce Community Bank, and The Peoples Bank can rest assured knowing that there will be no disruption to the operations and services provided by their bank. Community &Southern Bank looks forward to building upon the traditions and values that are the foundation of our bank. These acquisitions further strengthen our position in our North and West Georgia Regions and establishes us in several new markets in Canton, Winder, and Athens. We welcome all of our new customers into the Community & Southern Bank family as we work to develop the premiere banking franchise across North Georgia."

Bank of Ellijay, First Commerce Community Bank, and The Peoples Bank customers should be aware that their accounts have been automatically converted to Community & Southern Bank accounts. All deposit accounts will continue to be fully insured to the maximum limits allowed by the FDIC. Bank of Ellijay, First Commerce Community Bank, and The Peoples Bank customers should continue to visit existing branches and use their existing checks and ATM/Debit cards to access their funds. All direct deposit and electronic bill pay transactions will continue to be processed normally.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Taxpayers Will See Relief By Way of Inflation-Adjusted Indexing, But Total Tax Impact Remains Unclear, CCH Says

/PRNewswire/ -- Taxpayers stuck in the current economic downturn will get at least some relief in 2011 thanks to the mandatory upward inflation-adjustments called for under the tax code, according to CCH, which today released estimated income ranges for each 2011 tax bracket. CCH also projects the growing number of other inflation-sensitive tax figures, such as the personal exemption and the standard deduction.

"Indexing for inflation has become an established part of our tax system, and it's likely to be a part of the tax law for the foreseeable future even as Congress debates changes to the tax rates themselves," according to George Jones, JD, CCH Senior Federal Tax Analyst.

Projections this year, however, are clouded by the uncertainty of expiring provisions in the tax code. If Congress allows the tax cuts within Economic Growth and Tax Relief and Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) to expire as called for at the end of 2010, many taxpayers could lose more ground than they will otherwise gain.

When there is inflation, indexing of brackets lowers tax bills by including more of people's incomes in lower brackets - in the existing 15-percent rather than the existing 25-percent bracket, for example. The formula used in indexing showed a relatively small amount of inflation this year, just under 1.5 percent. However, this is far greater in comparison to the 0.18 percent inflation factor used to set 2010 tax amounts. Therefore, while 2010 inflation-adjusted amounts in many cases stayed flat as a result, most 2011 figures will move higher.

For 2011, however, the big question is not whether the brackets will continue to increase because of inflation - they will. Rather, it is what tax rates will be applied against those brackets. The current 10-, 15-, 25-, 33- and 35-percent rates are now scheduled to sunset to the pre-EGTRRA rate structure of 15, 28, 31, 36 and 39.6 percent. In addition, there are two possible alternative scenarios being debated by lawmakers:

-- Extend the current tax bracket structure in its entirety; or
-- As the proposal from President Obama calls for, keep the current rate
structure except revive the 36- and 39.6-percent rates, starting at a
higher income bracket level; he would also amend the standard
deduction so that it does not revive the marriage penalty that had
been in place prior to EGTRRA.

In other words, Jones noted, it gets complicated quickly without knowing yet which approach Congress will take.

"While we were looking at the very real possibility of deflation in the tax adjustment required under the tax code last year, this year we are 'back to normal' in the sense that the expected upward adjustment in tax benefits from 2010-2011 are taking place," said Jones. "The only wildcard remains how Congress will deal with the sunsetting provisions. We may not know that until a possible lame-duck session of Congress this December."

The examples below show the modest tax savings generated by indexing and how they would be reversed if the EGTRRA tax cuts were to expire wholesale:

-- Because of inflation adjustments, a married couple filing jointly with
a total taxable income of $100,000 should pay $112.50 less in income
taxes in 2011 than they will on the same income for 2010 (compared to
only a $12.50 savings between 2009 and 2010). That savings remains
whether the EGTRRA tax cuts are fully extended or President Obama's
proposal is adopted. However, if the rates and marriage penalty relief
sunset entirely, the couple will end up paying $3,143 more in taxes in
-- A single filer with taxable income of $50,000 should owe $56 less next
year due to the adjustments (again, compared to only a $6.25 savings
between 2009 and 2010). However, once again, even with savings from
the inflation adjustments, a single filer will owe $834 more in 2011
than in 2010 on the same $50,000 amount if complete sunset of the
rates takes place.
-- For taxpayers with more than $379,150 in taxable income in both 2010
and 2011, the maximum savings from indexing the tax brackets for 2011
will be more dramatic. However, so will the additional tax that would
be owed under either a complete sunset of the EGTRRA tax cuts or
adoption of the Obama proposal, which would continue to give
high-income taxpayers the incremental benefit of the 10-percent rate
bracket as well as allow them an expanded 28-percent bracket.
Inflation-generated savings if all rates were extended would amount to
$330 for a single filer with $400,000 taxable income, for example.
However, that same taxpayer would pay an additional $11,394 under a
full sunset of the rates, and $5,080 more under the Obama proposal
above 2010 amounts.

Inflation Adjustments

Since the late 1980s, the U.S. tax code has required that federal income tax brackets be adjusted for inflation annually, and inflation adjustments have been inserted into the Internal Revenue Code in recent years with increasing frequency.

For example, the Code now requires over 50 other inflation-driven computations to determine deduction, exemption and exclusion amounts in addition to the 40 separate computations needed to inflation-adjust the tax bracket tables each year. In fact, the health care reform legislation passed earlier this year adds an even greater number of inflation-adjustments to the tax code, although health-related indexing won't start until 2013.

Most adjustments are based on Consumer Price Index figures for September through August immediately prior to the adjusted year. However, some inflation-adjusted figures are computed earlier and some later. For example, amounts such as the 2011 vehicle depreciation limits won't be available until 2011 (the $3,060 regular first-year amount for 2010 was not released until February 2010), while the standard business mileage rate (that is currently set at 50 cents for 2010) isn't expected to be computed for 2011 and released until December 2010.

CCH's projections for other indexed amounts are based on the relevant inflation data released September 17, 2010, by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The IRS usually releases official numbers by December each year. CCH tax bracket projections are provided for illustrative purposes only, and should not be used for income tax returns or other federal income tax related purposes until confirmed by the IRS later this year.

Some Items Not Indexed

Jones observed that some items in the Code are not indexed for inflation and stay the same, while others rise by dollar amounts already written into the tax law.

"The exemption amounts for the alternative minimum tax are not indexed, which means that each year Congress must either increase the amounts by statute or expose additional households to the AMT," Jones said.

For 2009, Congress set the AMT exemption amounts at $46,700 for single individuals and $70,950 for married couples filing jointly. Congress has relied on one- or two-year AMT patches to account for inflation from the initially set amounts of $33,750 and $45,000, respectively. However, there is no technical requirement under the tax code to increase those amounts for inflation. No amounts have been set yet for 2010, no less for 2011. While they are scheduled to revert to the default amounts of $33,750/$45,000 without action, the Obama administration tax proposals contemplate further increases.

Standard Deduction, Personal Exemption Rise

The standard deduction and personal exemption amounts are also subject to indexing; however, because of "rounding down," some years show no change at all. After very little movement in the 2010 amounts, 2011 will see a jump in all standard deduction levels. However, a wrinkle occurs if the EGTRRA sunset provisions move forward. In which case, the marriage penalty relief that has been built into the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly will be eliminated. Rather than double the standard deduction for unmarried single filers, the 2011 standard deduction for joint filers would drop by $1,750 to $9,650, even taking the past year's inflation into account.

Assuming that Congress will not let any of the standard deduction amounts sunset, however, the standard deduction for single taxpayers, heads of households and marrieds filing separately will all increase by $100 in 2011. The standard deduction for joint filers would rise by $200, to $11,600. Any increase in the standard deduction, of course, can produce lower taxes by decreasing the taxpayer's taxable income.

The additional standard deduction for those age 65 or older or who are blind will rise by $50 to $1,150 in 2011 for married individuals and surviving spouses, and by $50 to $1,450 for single filers. The personal exemption amount also gets bumped up by inflation by $50, to $3,700 in 2011.

Taxpayers have had to lose a good portion of the value of personal exemptions and itemized deductions when their incomes rise above certain levels, which have also been adjusted for inflation. For 2010, these "phaseouts" disappeared from the tax code, but only temporarily if Congress does not act. As part of the EGTRRA sunset, they are scheduled to return in 2011, with a personal exemption phase-out range starting at $254,350 for joint filers and $169,550 for single filers and a phase-out range for itemized deductions starting at $169,550 for all filers except married couples filing separately whose phase-out range for itemized deductions starts at $84,775.

"The removal of limitations on itemized deductions and personal exemptions, rather than indexing of brackets, will provide major tax savings in 2010 for many well-off taxpayers. The return of these limitations in 2011 would pose an equally important change in the reverse direction," Jones observed.

For a complete look at how income ranges for each tax bracket are projected to shift next, see the CCH chart below.

"Kiddie" Deduction, Gift Tax Exemption

In general, inflation adjustments are rounded to the next-lower multiple of $50, so if the adjustment produces an increase of less than $50, no increase is made. The "kiddie" deduction, used on the returns of children claimed as dependents on their parents' returns, increased only five times in the years 2001 through 2010. It last rose for the 2009 tax year. For 2011 the deduction will remain at that $950 level.

The Code only allows the gift tax exemption to rise when the inflation adjustment would produce an increase of $1,000 or more. The last increase occurred in 2009, when it rose to $13,000. It remains there for 2011.


  Married Filing Jointly (& Surviving Spouse)

   Rate   2011 Taxable Income
                 Complete              Full
                  Sunset            Extension
     10%  n/a                         $0-$17,000
     15%           $0-$57,650    $17,000-$69,000
     25%  n/a                    $69,000-139,350
     28%     $57,650-$139,350  $139,350-$212,300
     31%    $139,350-$212,300  n/a
     33%  n/a                  $212,300-$379,150
     35%  n/a                           $379,150+
     36%    $212,300-$379,150  n/a
   39.6%             $379,150+ n/a

    Tax                                            2010 Taxable
   Rate            2011 Taxable Income                 Income
     10%                            $0-$17,000         $0-$16,750
     15%                            $0-$69,000    $16,750-$68,000
     25%                      $69,000-$139,350   $68,000-$137,300
     28%                     $139,350-$237,300  $137,300-$209,250
     31%  n/a                                   n/a
     33%  n/a                                   $209,250-$373,650
     35%  n/a                                            $373,650+
     36%                     $237,300-$379,150  n/a
   39.6%                              $379,150+ n/a

  Unmarried Individuals (other than surviving spouses and heads of

  Tax Rate  2011 Taxable Income
              Complete Sunset     Full Extension
      10%   n/a                          $0-$8,500
      15%            $0-$34,500     $8,500-$34,500
      25%   n/a                    $34,500-$83,600
      28%       $34,500-$83,600   $83,600-$174,400
      31%      $83,600-$174,400  n/a
      33%   n/a                  $174,400-$379,150
      35%   n/a                           $379,150+
      36%     $174,400-$379,150  n/a
     39.6%             $379,150+ n/a

                                                     2010 Taxable
  Tax Rate     2011 Taxable Income                      Income
                 Obama Proposal
      10%                              $0-$8,500          $0-$8,375
      15%                         $8,500-$34,500     $8,375-$34,000
      25%                        $34,500-$83,600    $34,000-$82,400
      28%                       $83,600-$195,550   $82,400-$171,850
      31%  n/a                                    n/a
      33%  n/a                                    $171,850-$373,650
      35%  n/a                                             $373,650+
      36%                      $195,550-$379,150  n/a
     39.6%                              $379,150+ n/a

  Head of Household

  Tax Rate  2011 Taxable Income
              Complete Sunset     Full Extension
      10%   n/a                         $0-$12,150
      15%            $0-$46,250    $12,150-$46,250
      25%   n/a                   $46,250-$119,400
      28%      $46,250-$119,400  $119,400-$193,350
      31%     $119,400-$193,350  n/a
      33%   n/a                  $193,350-$379,150
      35%   n/a                           $379,150+
      36%     $193,350-$379,150  n/a
     39.6%             $379,150+ n/a

                                                     2010 Taxable
  Tax Rate     2011 Taxable Income                      Income
                 Obama Proposal
      10%                             $0-$12,150         $0-$11,950
      15%                        $12,150-$46,250    $11,950-$45,550
      25%                       $46,250-$119,400   $45,550-$117,650
      28%                      $119,400-$216,400  $117,650-$190,550
      31%  n/a                                    n/a
      33%  n/a                                    $190,550-$373,650
      35%  n/a                                             $373,650+
      36%                      $216,400-$379,150  n/a
     39.6%                              $379,150+ n/a

  Married Individuals Filing Separate Returns

  Tax Rate  2011 Taxable Income
              Complete Sunset     Full Extension
      10%   n/a                          $0-$8,500
      15%            $0-$28,825     $8,500-$34,500
      25%   n/a                    $34,500-$69,675
      28%       $28,825-$69,675   $69,675-$106,150
      31%      $69,675-$106,150  n/a
      33%   n/a                  $106,150-$189,575
      35%   n/a                           $189,575+
      36%     $106,150-$189,575  n/a
     39.6%             $189,575+ n/a

                                                     2010 Taxable
  Tax Rate     2011 Taxable Income                      Income
                 Obama Proposal
      10%                              $0-$8,500          $0-$8,375
      15%                         $8,500-$34,500     $8,375-$34,000
      25%                        $34,500-$69,675    $34,000-$68,650
      28%                        $69,675-118,650   $68,650-$104,625
      31%  n/a                                    n/a
      33%  n/a                                    $104,625-$186,825
      35%  n/a                                             $186,825+
      36%                      $118,650-$189,575  n/a
     39.6%                              $189,575+ n/a

  Standard Deduction Amounts

  Filing Status    2011**                        2010   Increase
  Married Filing
   Jointly (&
   Spouse)             $9,650 (with marriage  $11,400   (-$1,750)
                    penalty relief
                   $11,600 (without marriage
                    penalty relief
                    sunset)                   $11,400        $200
  Married Filing
   Separately          $4,825 (with marriage   $5,700     (-$875)
                    penalty relief
                    $5,800 (without marriage
                    penalty relief
                    sunset                     $5,700        $100
  Single                              $5,800   $5,700        $100
  Head of
   Household                          $8,500   $8,400        $100

  **A marriage penalty exists when the combined tax liability of a
  couple filing a joint return is greater than the sum of the tax
  liabilities each would have if they were unmarried. If the EGTRRA
  sunset takes effect, it will trigger a marriage penalty with the
  basic standard deduction for married individuals filing joint
  returns dropping considerably.

  Standard Deduction for Dependents ("Kiddie" Standard Deduction)

        2011                   2010     Increase
             $950              $950              $0

  Income Level at Which 3-Percent Itemized Deduction Limitation Takes
  Effect (Adjusted Gross Income)

  Filing Status        sunset)    2010***        2009
  Married Filing
   Jointly             $169,550  n/a         $166,800
  (& Surviving
  Married Filing
   Separately           $84,775  n/a          $83,400
  Single               $169,550  n/a         $166,800
  Head of Household    $169,550  n/a         $166,800

  *** For 2010, these limitations disappeared from the tax code; if the
  limitation rules under EGTRRA are allowed to sunset, the above rates
  will apply for 2011.

  Personal Exemption Amounts

   2011     2010  Increase
  $3,700  $3,650       $50

  Threshold for Personal Exemption Phaseout

  Filing Status       sunset)    2010****      2009
  Married Filing
   Jointly            $254,350  n/a        $250,200
  (& Surviving
  Married Filing
   Separately         $127,175  n/a        $125,100
  Single              $169,550  n/a        $166,800
  Head of
   Household          $211,950  n/a        $208,500

  **** For 2010, these "phaseouts" disappeared from the tax code; if
  the phaseout rules under EGTRRA are allowed to sunset, the above
  phaseout levels will apply for 2011.

  Gift Tax Exemption

    2011      2010   Increase
  $13,000  $13,000         $0

  Income Limit for Full Roth IRA Contribution

  Filing Status      2011      2010   Increase
   Jointly       $169,000  $167,000     $2,000
  Single         $107,000  $105,000     $2,000

  Income Limit for Full Roth IRA Contribution
  Filing Status               2011      2010  Increase
  Married Filing Jointly  $169,000  $167,000    $2,000
  Single                  $107,000  $105,000    $2,000

* These numbers are projected for the 2011 tax year and have not been confirmed by the Internal Revenue Service.
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business ( is the leading global provider of tax, accounting and audit information, software and services. It has served tax, accounting and business professionals since 1913.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

US Department of Labor announces final rule for Unemployment Compensation Program funding goals

/PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration today announced a final rule regarding the Unemployment Compensation Program. This rule implements federal legislation requiring the department to establish criteria for states to qualify for interest-free federal loans for the payment of unemployment compensation.

"The past few years have really tested the unemployment programs. For that reason, and the future health of unemployment trust funds, it is especially important that states make reasonable efforts to maintain the solvency of their unemployment compensation systems before receiving interest-free federal loans," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.

The Social Security Act provides for the federal government to make advances to states that deplete their unemployment trust fund accounts. This arrangement ensures that eligible unemployed workers receive benefits to which they are entitled. These advances are generally interest-bearing; however, states may obtain interest-free advances under certain conditions. Under current law, states owe no interest on amounts they obtain from the federal government during a calendar year if the advances are repaid by Sept. 30 of the same year and no additional advances are made that year.

The purpose of the legislation spurring today's final rule was to encourage states to adequately forward fund their unemployment compensation systems to minimize the need for advances. The final rule conditions a state's receipt of interest-free advances upon the state meeting new funding goals as well as existing requirements.

The rule requires that a state:

1) meet a solvency goal based on a generally accepted measure of trust fund solvency in at least one of the five years preceding the year the advance occurs; and

2) has had no significant tax reductions in the years between the last that the solvency measure was met and the year in which the advance occurs.

Implementation of the final rule will be phased in beginning in 2014 in order to allow states additional time to repay current advances and build sufficient reserves to meet the new requirements for interest-free loans. Full implementation will occur in 2019.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sandwich Generation Stretched Thin Financially

/PRNewswire/ -- Today, Generation Mortgage Company and Zogby International released alarming new data detailing the financial tribulations of the Sandwich Generation -- a sector largely comprised of Baby Boomers who are caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children. The study found that a majority of the Sandwich Generation give their household's current financial situation a negative rating and are having to make tough financial decisions and cutbacks.

The eye-opening results shed light on many financial hardships facing the Sandwich Generation. With unemployment near 10 percent, it is no surprise that 23 percent of those polled have lost a job recently and an additional 24 percent have taken a cut in pay or benefits. This has resulted in 17 percent failing to make a mortgage or rent payment on time due to insufficient funds.

According to the Generation Mortgage/Zogby International survey, finances have forced the Sandwich Generation to make serious cuts in their spending habits to survive during the recession. Seventy-three percent have decreased spending on entertainment, recreation or eating out. Moreover, 43 percent have decreased overall spending on food or groceries and three out of five of those polled say it is difficult to be a caregiver for their parents and/or in laws while financially supporting their children.

"The Sandwich Generation is probably the most financially vulnerable demographic to result from the recession," said Jeff Lewis, Chairman, Generation Mortgage Company. "They are unemployed or under-employed, financially supporting two generations in their family and are saddled with debt from bills and a mortgage. As this group looks to retire, their financial situation, coupled with the state of the economy, is not leaving them with many options."

The study also uncovered that 78 percent of those polled said they are worried about having enough money to retire comfortably and 23 percent have restructured their retirement plan in the last year due to financial reasons. Even more distressing, 52 percent responded that they plan to work part time during retirement to make ends meet.

"As the Sandwich Generation looks towards retirement," commented Lewis, "they should become educated on their available financial options. One of the financial options that is often overlooked is a reverse mortgage."

Zogby International was commissioned by Generation Mortgage to conduct an online survey of 271 adults who have children and are caregivers of parent(s). The survey was conducted from August 9-11, 2010. A sampling of Zogby International's online panel, which is representative of the adult population of the U.S., was invited to participate. Slight weights were added to region, age, race, gender, and education to more accurately reflect the population. The Margin of Error (MOE) is +/- 6.1 percentage points. Margins of Error are higher in sub-groups. The MOE calculation is for sampling error only.

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Consumers Union Report: Prepaid Cards Come With Long List of Fees and Weak Consumer Protections

/PRNewswire/ -- Prepaid cards continue to grow in popularity, but this new form of plastic payment comes with high fees and weaker protections than those offered by traditional debit or credit cards, according to a new report by Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

Prepaid cards are reloadable cards that can be used to make payments similar to debit cards and are becoming the foundation of a second tier banking system used by a growing number of low income consumers.

"Prepaid cards come with a long list of fees that are often hidden deep in the fine print," said Michelle Jun, Staff Attorney for Consumers Union. "Consumers considering prepaid cards should be aware that those fees can add up quickly and that they may be vulnerable to losing their money if their card is lost or stolen."

Prepaid cards are a growing business and usually bear a network logo such as Visa or MasterCard and often have the word "debit" printed prominently on the front of the cards. The Federal Reserve estimated that 312 million transactions were made with prepaid cards in 2006 for a total value of $13.3 billion. These numbers have undoubtedly continued to rise as the prepaid card industry has worked to enroll the millions of unbanked and underbanked consumers.

Consumers Union reviewed the terms and conditions of 19 different prepaid cards and found that consumers face multiple fees and other costly "gotchas":

-- Activation Fees: 12 of the 19 prepaid cards reviewed charged
consumers a fee for activating their cards. These activation fees
ranged from a low of $3 for the Walmart Money card and the nFinanSe
card to a whopping $39.95 for the First Vineyard card.
-- Monthly Fee: 16 of the 19 prepaid cards charged monthly fees ranging
from $2.95 per month for the nFinanSe card to $9.95 per month for the
NetSpend VISA card, Rush card, and AccountNow card. Most prepaid card
issuers will waive the monthly fee if a direct deposit is set up.
Some card issuers will waive the monthly fee if the consumer chooses
the "pay as you go" option. The Green Dot card charges a $5.95
monthly fee unless the consumer maintains a $1,000 balance or has 30
posted transactions.
-- Fees to Get Cash: All 19 prepaid cards reviewed charged fees for
withdrawing cash from ATMs in the U.S. On the low end, consumers
using the nFinanSe card are charged 99 cents per withdrawal.
Consumers using the NetSpend Visa card, AccountNow card, and Bank
Freedom card are charged $2.50 for each withdrawal. In one case (Rush
card), consumers were given two free withdrawals but then charged
$2.50 for each additional withdrawal. Consumers using the Green Dot
card get free withdrawals at in-network ATMs, but are otherwise
charged $2.50 per withdrawal. Fees were even higher for international
-- Balance Inquiry Fees: 18 of the 19 prepaid cards charged fees for
checking balances at ATMs, ranging from 45 cents to $1. This does not
include any additional fee charged by the ATM owner.
-- Paper Statement Fees: 15 of the 19 prepaid cards charged fees for
providing consumers with a paper statement detailing transactions on
their account. Paper statement fees ranged from $1 to $5.95. All 19
prepaid card issuers provide free access to account statements online.
-- Customer Service: Most pre-paid card issuers provide free customer
service, but consumers using the BuyRight card will be charged $1 to
speak to a customer service representative, while users of the Exact
card will pay $3.95 for doing so. Some prepaid card issuers charge
customer service fees after a limited number of free calls.
-- Fees for Inactivity: 9 of the 19 prepaid cards charged fees when
cards are not used after a certain period of time. These dormancy
fees range from $1.95 per month for the Rush Card (after 90 days of
inactivity) to $9.95 per month for the Exact card.
-- Overdraft Fees: A number of prepaid card issuers claim that they do
not charge fees when users spend more than the available amount on
their cards. However, Consumers Union found that 13 of the 19 cards
it reviewed included overdraft or "shortage" fees. Most of the card
issuers that charge an overdraft fee do not specify the amount of the
fee. Instead, the card agreement indicates that consumers will be
charged "applicable fees" for the shortage.

When prepaid cards are lost or stolen and used by others to make fraudulent transactions, consumers are not protected by the same regulatory and statutory safeguards that enable other debit card users to recover their money. If a consumer contacts a card issuer about a lost or stolen debit card within two business days, the consumer's liability is limited to up to $50 (or up to $500 if the consumer reports the debit card lost or stolen after two business days). By contrast, prepaid cards may only have voluntary protections that could be revised or rescinded at any time for any reason.

Some prepaid cards claim to provide consumers a way to build a credit record or include a credit line feature. However, Consumers Union found that the prepaid card issuers may report "credit building" activity to an alternative, less used credit reporting agency or may report only the payment of the card's high monthly fees. The credit line feature may provide credit which is as expensive as costly overdraft loans and payday loans.

Finally, consumers with traditional bank accounts have peace of mind that their money will not be lost as long as their bank is FDIC insured. But consumers who use prepaid cards have no guarantee that they will be able to recover all their money in the event of a bank failure because the funds may not be insured by the FDIC.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Consumer Reports Index: Economy Continues to Waiver With Worsening Job Outlook

/PRNewswire/ -- Consumer difficulties are declining, but the economy continues to waiver, with a worsening job picture and declining retail activity, according to the Consumer Reports Index for September.

The U.S. job outlook remains bleak, the September results for the Consumer Reports Employment Index marks a two-month decline, down in September to 49.1 from 50.2 in August. The share of Americans claiming to have started a new job in the past 30 days is 5.0%, versus 5.9% in August, and down from July's recent high of 7.8%. Job losses in the past 30 days were up, 6.9%, from August, 5.6%. Results show that younger Americans between the ages of 18-34 years have been hit the hardest by job losses (13.7%).

Americans are continuing to pull their purse strings tight. The Consumer Reports Retail Index for August continues to decline. The Past 30-Day Retail Index for September is at 9.8, down significantly from last month's 11.4. September marks an overall decline from a year ago when the Past 30-Day Retail Index was at 11.0, and is at its lowest level since November 2009 (9.0). September's Next 30-Day Retail Index is at 7.6, down from August (8.1), as well as a year ago (8.8). Per capita spending in the past 30 days is down to $185, from $286 in August.

The economy remains unsteady and Americans are cautious, but the Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker continues to show positive developments. It has declined to 53.7 from 56.6 in August, and has posted three months of declines from its recent high in June (63.5). The Trouble Tracker has improved from this time last year when it was at 68.7, a 15-point drop. Positive developments this month were led by a decline in consumers losing or facing reduced healthcare coverage, to 6.7% from 9.7% in August.

As the Trouble Tracker improves, Americans' outlook has yet to brighten. The Consumer Sentiment Index has gradually slipped over the past two months and is currently at 44.1, continuing a slide from July (45.2). This index has changed little since October 2008 when it stood at 45.3.

"The recovery faces serious challenges and is at risk of stalling," said Ed Farrell, a director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center. "Job creation remains the greatest challenge. The growth in the ranks of the employed remains anemic and will dampen consumer outlook moving forward. Americans have not seen any real improvement in their financial situation since the recession hit and this is reflected in our Sentiment Index, which has been in negative territory for the last two years."

The Consumer Reports Index report, available at, comprises five key indices: the Sentiment Index, the Trouble Tracker Index, the Stress Index, the Retail Index, and the Employment Index. Here are the key findings:

Consumer Reports Sentiment Index: 44.1
-- Consumer Reports Sentiment Index has gradually declined from 45.2 in
July to 44.1 in September. The most optimistic consumers are between
the ages of 18-34 (49.9), along with households with an income of
$100,000+ (50.7). The most pessimistic consumers are between the ages
of 35-64 (42.3) or age 65+ (41.1), and households with an income less
than $50,000 (40.4).

The Consumer Reports Sentiment Index captures respondents' attitudes regarding their financial situation, asking them if they are feeling better or worse off than a year ago. When the index is greater than 50, more consumers are feeling positive about their situation. When it is below 50, more consumers are feeling worse. The Sentiment Index can vary from a high of 100 to a low of 0.

Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index: 53.7
-- The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index has shown a decline this
month, pointing to fewer troubles for consumers, dropping to 53.7 in
September from 56.6 in August, and is down substantially from a year
ago (68.7).
-- Positive developments were led by a decline in consumers losing or
facing reduced healthcare coverage, to 6.7% from 9.7% in August; a
drop in the proportion of Americans unable to afford medical bills or
medications (13.6%), down from 15.4% in August, and a slight reduction
in the proportion of Americans that faced negative changes to their
credit cards, down to 7.2% from 8.9% in August.
-- The most common difficulties faced by Americans are:
-- Unable to afford medical bills or medications (13.6%), down from
15.4% in August
-- Missed payment on a major bill - not mortgage (9.3%), down from
10.2% in August
-- Credit card increased rates/fees, reduced credit line (7.2%), down
from 8.9% in August
-- Lower-income households, earning less than $50,000 a year, have been
disproportionately affected. In the past 30 days:
-- 22.4% Have been unable to afford medical bills or medications
-- 16.1% Missed payment on a major bill - not mortgage

The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker focuses on both the proportion of consumers that have faced difficulties as well as the number of negative events they have encountered. The negative events include: the inability to pay medical bills or afford medication, missed mortgage payments, home foreclosure, interest-rate increase, penalty fees, reduced lines of credit or other changes in credit-card terms, job loss or layoffs, reduced healthcare coverage, or the denial of personal loans. The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index is then calculated as the proportion of consumers that have experienced at least one of the negative events comprising the index multiplied by the average number of events encountered.

Consumer Reports Retail Index: Past 30-Day - 9.8, Next 30-Day - 7.6
-- Consumer Reports Past 30-Day Retail Index for September, reflective of
August activity, is at 9.8, down from the prior month (11.4). Per
capita spending for the past 30 days was down significantly for
September, reflecting August activity, to $185, from $286 the prior
-- The proportion of Americans buying across categories in the past 30
days showed the greatest declines in small appliances (16.6%, down
3.7% points), personal electronics (21.4%, down 3.5% points), and
major home electronics (10.7%, down 2% points).
-- Among the non-index categories, past 30 day purchases, reflecting
August activity, were down slightly for new cars (1.7%) versus the
prior month (2.2%), but up for used cars (5.1%) from the prior month
(3.7%). Home purchases were up slightly in September (2.5%) relative
to August (1.6%).
-- Consumer Reports Next 30-Day Retail Index, reflective of planned
purchases for September, is at 7.6, down from the prior month (8.1) as
well as one year ago (8.8).
-- Among the non-index categories, next 30 day planned purchasing points
to new cars declining slightly, 2.5% versus 3.1% the prior month, and
used cars also moving downward to 3.5% from 4.3% for August. Planned
purchasing for homes in the next 30 days, reflecting September
activity, is on par with the prior month (1.5%).

The Consumer Reports Retail Index looks at consumer purchases in the past 30 days as well as the outlook for planned purchases in the next 30-days across several categories. The Consumer Reports Retail Index represents the proportion of respondents that made a purchase in the following categories: major home appliances, small home appliances, major home electronics, personal electronics, and major yard and garden equipment. The Retail Index is a weighted calculation. For example, a major appliance is of greater value than a small appliance. Because of their size and frequency, car and home purchases are tracked separately.

Consumer Reports Stress Index: 60.1
-- According to the Consumer Reports Stress Index, the level of stress
consumers feel they are under (60.1) is unchanged from the prior month
(59.4), but down from one year ago (65.4).

The Consumer Reports Stress Index captures attitudes regarding the amount of stress consumers feel compared to a year ago. It asks whether they are feeling more stressed or less stressed. When the Stress Index is more than 50, consumers are feeling more stress and when it is below 50 they are feeling less stress compared to a year ago. The index can vary from 100 (Total Stress) to a low of 0 (No Stress).

Consumer Reports Employment Index: 49.1
-- The Consumer Reports Employment Index is down in September (49.1) from
50.2 in August, dipping into negative territory.
-- Overall labor force activity has slowed considerably in the past
month, with significantly fewer Americans claiming to have started a
new job in the past 30-days, 5.0% versus 5.9% the prior month.
-- Job losses in the past 30-days (6.9%) were up from the prior period
(5.6%). Job loses have hit younger Americans age 18-34 the hardest

The Consumer Reports Employment Index examines the change in employment of those that reported starting a new job versus those that have lost their job or were laid off in the past 30 days. An index below 50 indicates more jobs were lost than gained, while a score more than 50 indicates more jobs were gained than lost in the past 30-days.

For more information regarding the Consumer Reports Index visit

The Consumer Reports Index, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center is a monthly telephone and cell phone poll of a nationally representative probability sample of American adults. A total of 1,257 interviews were completed (1,007 telephone & 250 cell phones) among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place between August 26-August 29, 2010. The margin of error is +/- 2.8 points at a 95% confidence level. The complete index report, methodology, and tabular information are available. Contact: C. Matt Fields, 914.378.2454,

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Monday, September 13, 2010

AARP Survey Looks at Recession's Impact on Lower-Income Adults 45+

/PRNewswire/ -- An AARP report released today for the first time paints a picture of the struggles lower-income older adults are facing during the recession. The AARP Closer Look June 2010 survey found that nearly six in 10 Americans 45+ who make less than $25,000 a year say they are either "not at all" or "not too" confident they will have enough money to pay medical and living expenses in retirement, compared to 36 percent of higher income adults.

More than four in 10 (42 percent) lower-income older adults rate their health as "fair" or "poor," compared to only 18 percent of those who earn more than $25,000 a year. Additionally, many report they are struggling to meet basic needs, like paying for food and electricity, heat and water bills.

"While the recession has been devastating for many older Americans, this recent data indicates lower-income folks are being hit particularly hard," said Jo Ann Jenkins, president of AARP's affiliated charity, the AARP Foundation. "Each day, millions are choosing between essentials like buying groceries or paying for prescriptions. It's a devastating choice that no one should have to make."

Similar to the general population, lower-income older adults have cut back, but they are doing so in greater numbers. Nearly 40 percent had to cancel or postpone needed healthcare or dental treatments in the last six months--twice as many as higher-income adults. Twenty-three percent skipped doses, cut pills in half or did not fill prescriptions, compared with 15 percent of higher-income people. Lower-income adults are twice as likely to have looked for more affordable housing in the last six months compared to higher-income levels. And half used their car less to cut down on gas costs.

Additional findings for all income levels indicate the continual struggles older Americans are experiencing in tough economic times:

-- More than one in four adults 45+ (28 percent) stopped contributing to
retirement savings in the past six months, and 14 percent of adults 45
to 64 reported having to prematurely withdraw funds from retirement
savings vehicles--a trend which has increased at a significant rate
over the recession.
-- When asked about current value of retirement savings available, nearly
half (48 percent) reported having less than $50,000 in savings, with
16 percent of those reporting no savings at all.
-- With many older workers currently facing extended unemployment, a
large majority (63 percent) of respondents said that, based on what
they have experienced or observed, older workers face age
discrimination in the workplace.
-- Twenty percent of people 45+ reported problems paying their medical
bills in the last six months. The percentages were significantly
higher for Hispanics (29 percent) and African-Americans (33 percent).
-- More than a quarter of people 45+ have put off or postponed getting
needed health care or dental treatments or services in the last six
-- Gas prices continue to be a challenge for more than a third (35
percent) of people age 45+, but finding adequate public transportation
alternatives is also a problem, 34 percent say.
-- A third of people age 45+ report are fixing up their homes to stay
there longer even as almost half (45 percent) note that their
community lacks affordable housing if they chose to move.

AARP Foundation ( and AARP Real Relief ( have resources to help lower-income older Americans make ends meet, including federal benefits assistance, money management programs and tips to cut expenses.

AARP Closer Look is a twice-yearly poll to help understand the effect of social and economic changes on baby boomers and older Americans. The full survey is available at html.


ICR conducted the Closer Look Survey for AARP via telephone between June 9 and June 30, 2010, among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 respondents 45+. One hundred respondents were Hispanic and 100 were African American. The margin of error is +/- 3.35 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Majority of Voters Expecting Double-Digit Tax Increases in Next 10 Years

/PRNewswire/ -- PJTV's Tea Party TV today unveiled the results of its weekly Tea Party tracking poll, which revealed that 71 percent of likely voters and 76 percent of Independents believe there will be a tax increase of 10 percent or more if current federal spending habits continue.

"Voters overwhelmingly believe the government's spending habits will force lawmakers to increase taxes by double-digit amounts," said Roger L. Simon, CEO of Pajamas Media. "In the last two years, Washington has lifted the debt ceiling twice, extending the limit by $2.2 trillion. Now, Americans - especially Republicans and Independents - are translating that national public debt into a personal financial burden."

When asked about the potential of a tax hike of 20 percent or more, only Democrats were skeptical. Majorities of Republicans (58 percent) and Independents (50 percent) thought this to be a real concern while only 18 percent of Democrats were anxious of this outcome.

The weekly PJTV/Pulse Opinion Research nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters tracks Tea Party support as well as provides a snapshot of public opinion regarding the week's top issues. In addition to the weekly Tea Party tracking questions, this week's special question asked voters whether they believed taxes would decrease, stay the same, or increase by 10, 20, or 30 percent.

"The poll revealed that support for the Tea Party movement is holding strong at more than 50 percent," said Vik Rubenfeld, PJTV's Polling Director. "Moreover, we are seeing movement in the portion of likely voters who support the movement in the public arena. Today, 39 percent of likely voters report they publicly support the Tea Party, increasing from 33 percent three weeks ago."

Poll Highlights
-- 71 percent of likely voters and 76 percent of self-identified
Independents believe taxes will increase by 10 percent or more in the
next 10 years. Meanwhile, 42 percent of likely voters and 50 percent
of self-Independents believe they will increase by 20 percent or more.
-- 55 percent of likely voters support the Tea Party movement.
-- 39 percent of likely voters support the Tea Party movement publicly,
compared to 35 percent on August 22 and 33 percent on August 15.


The Tea Party Tracking Study is a PJTV survey. The telephone survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research on August 29, 2010. Pulse Opinion Research, LLC is an independent public opinion research firm using automated polling methodology and procedures licensed from Rasmussen Reports, LLC. Margin of Sampling Error, +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.

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